Guaranteeing youth rights to promote development
Ambassador Muhammad Zamir writes for DOT
At different levels of the social order and also within civil society we have had introspection order with regard to our youth dividend. The importance of this has also been noted by socio-economists who are associated with achieving required Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Attention in this regard has also come to the forefront with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina being awarded the prestigious “Champion for Skills Development for Young People” by the UNICEF during the current UNGA Session in New York and her observation that “education is the backbone of a nation and no nation can hold their heads high without education”.
All of us want our children to follow the values for the creation of a peaceful and progressive society where collective responsibility will promote virtues and shun vices. In this context we also observe that such an approach will be possible if the elders serve as role models for future /younger generations to help sustain the value system on which dignity and human rights are founded.
There is also consensus that denial with regard to empowering them to enjoy human rights through meaningful and functional education- such as freedom of thought, expression, assembly and association- could lead to many negative results impacting on the whole society and could infringe peace and security. Consequently, such a dynamics would be consistent with the State fulfilling and protecting their economic and social rights- the right to education, work and health.
In practical terms, ‘youth’, instead of being considered as a fixed age-group also needs to be understood as a cultural concept based on socio-cultural contexts and perceptions of different communities. Such an approach will then enable us to apply required measures differently in relation to diverse rights – for example in the justice system, in the labor market, in education, and within the family. For this reason many suggest that there needs to be fluidity in understanding the concept of Youth.
It needs to be understood here that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to individuals under the age of 18. However, young people moving between two stages of life – childhood and adulthood – can be particularly vulnerable to discrimination in various forms. They often encounter difficulties in accessing education, quality employment, social protection and full access to civil and political rights. This sometimes generates anger and negative response. Consequently, given the barriers young people sometimes face by virtue of their age, there is, one feels, a need for specific protection to tackle discrimination against young people and to remove the barriers that prevent them from accessing their rights.
Youth rights may be classified into three categories: (a) protecting young peoples’ access to amenities and services like food, clothes, shelter, education, etc.; (b) ensuring their safety from abuses, including physical, mental, and psychological; and (c) creating opportunity to evaluate decisions that affect them throughout their life cycle. In this context we also need to promote inter-generational partnerships that support youth inclusion in decision making as well as the social, economic and political integration of all youth”. Such an approach has been welcomed as a significant factor.
We need to remember that in this day and age of digitalization all sorts of ideas, including extremism and fundamentalism, can easily be indoctrinated in minds. It is this which underlines the importance of investing in character building of youth. The mainstreaming of youth rights as a cross-cutting issue has also been highlighted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
It is clear that we need to have a framework or instrument setting out the particular rights of young people at a global level. This needs to be articulated and promoted through international law.
Many governments, particularly among the Least Developed Countries and also among Developing countries, often do not see the added value or necessity of new instruments promoting youth rights. They hesitate to advocate for new instruments due to the potential resource burdens required for monitoring and reporting. This is particularly happening in certain countries in Africa and some parts of Asia. They need to understand that a pro-active and inter-active engagement, instead of hesitation, will help in the creation of better understanding among the Youth of their rights and how to secure and build on their foundations.
We, in Bangladesh, need to understand that we have one of the highest youth concentrations in the world. They can be a source of great benefit to us. Youth represents a remarkable demographic potential for us. They offer unprecedented advantages for our industry, innovation and growth. It is true that we face critical challenges in utilizing this great potential. However, providing quality education will help generate adequate number of jobs and ease transition from education to labour market. Creating equal opportunities in skill formation and job market for both male and female will promote intergenerational social mobility for better standards of living, ensure active participation of youth in the society, and reduce addictions of young people to harmful substances.
This has led economists and observers to note that there needs to be a greater focus on integrating and using the potential of youth. According to them, this can be achieved by shifting the narrative from addressing the “youth issues” to “youth rights”. Such an approach will have the dual advantage of ensuring the rights of youth as well as harnessing their potentials for building peaceful/ democratic societies and ensuring sustainable development. This will also promote formal and non-formal education and strengthen moral values of the young generation. Similarly, this process will facilitate youth capacity building and guided engagement in critical sectors of economic growth, peace and security, human rights and entrepreneurship.
We need to remember that the Sustainable Development Goals aims at integrating the role of young people in public affairs as key to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all and effective, inclusive and accountable institutions at all levels. The skills, energy and ideals of young people are vital for strengthening democratic institutions and building inclusive societies without discrimination.